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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    ^47
The first to leave the ward was Stepan Ivanovich. On
the day before his discharge, he wandered about the
hospital with mixed feelings of anxiety, joy and excite-
ment. He could not keep still for a moment. After chatting
with some patients in the corridor, he would return to
the ward, sit down at the window, begin to fashion
something out of bread, but at once jump up and leave
the ward again. Only in the evening, when dusk had
already fallen, did he climb up on the windowsill and
sit there in deep reflection, grunting and sighing. This was
the hour when the patients took their various treatments,
and there were only two other patients in the ward: the
Commissar, who was silently watching Stepan Ivanovich,
and Meresyev, who was trying hard to fall asleep.
Quiet reigned. Suddenly the Commissar turned his
head towards Stepan Ivanovich—whose profile was
clearly outlined in the light of the last rays of the setting
sun—and said in a barely audible voice:
"It is twilight in the country now, and quiet, oh, so
quiet. The smell of the thawing earth, damp manure,
and the wood smoke. The cow's in the barn, stamping
her straw bedding; she is restless, it's time for her to
calve. Springtime.... I wonder whether the women
managed to spread the manure on the fields. And what
about the seed, and the harness? Do you think every-
thing is all right?"
It seemed to Meresyev that Stepan Ivanovich looked
at the smiling Commissar not so much with surprise as
with fright when he said:
"You must be a wizard, Comrade Regimental Commis-
sar, to guess other people's thoughts like this. ... Yes,
women are very practical, of course, that's true, but the
devil knows how they are managing without us-----
That's a fact."
Silence reigned again. A ship on the river sounded
its siren and the echo went rolling merrily over the
water and resounded between its granite banks.
"Do you think the war will be over soon?" asked Ste-
pan Ivanovich, speaking in a whisper for some reason.
"Will it be over before the hay-making?"
The Commissar answered: "What are you worrying
about? The men of your age have not been called up.